How to Become a Valuable Asset and Go-To Writer: 5 Tips to Ensure Ongoing Work

I was stoked beyond belief. My proposal for a big copywriting project had just been accepted. I had visions of future royalty deals funding my expensive habits. I pictured sitting in on inner circle marketing meetings in a high-rise office building. And I imagined celebrating in style when my copy became the new control.

Then reality hit me, and I had a sinking feeling in my stomach.

What if I couldn't deliver? What if I had gotten in over my head? What if I messed up so bad that I got blacklisted from ever working as a copywriter again?!

Turns out, both extremes were off the mark.

The project went well, the client liked my copy, and I got a good testimonial afterward.

Since then, they've given me more work – a website project, rewriting all their brochures, and writing a video script.

They've also referred me to two other clients who didn't need to see any samples and accepted my proposals without any questions.

In my short two-year career so far as a freelance copywriter, I've made my share of mistakes. I don't have as many clients as I'd like, and the projects aren't as big as I'd like (yet).

Spend more time with clients, less time prospecting

But one thing I've done right is to really take care of the clients I do have. I know that I'm adding value because they keep coming back to me with more projects.

It's a lot easier to hang on to clients you have than to replace them with new clients.

I have to give a nod here to Gary Hennerberg, who gives one of the best sessions every year at AWAI’s FastTrack to Copywriting Success Bootcamp and Job Fair. He talks about how to turn spec challenges into clients, but it's really a master class on positioning yourself as a professional and setting yourself apart from the competition. My philosophy of adding extra value to the client is rooted in Gary's lessons (and the refresher course I get every year at Bootcamp makes it sink in that much more).

The five tips for becoming a valuable asset to your client can be distilled into two general rules:

  • Be easy and enjoyable to work with
  • Make your client money

That's really the starting point. Your number one job is to make your client money. You become a valuable asset when you help your client make more money than they would without you.

So every project you work on, think to yourself, "What can I do here to make them more money?" Not just in the sense of writing top-notch copy – that's expected. But what added value can you provide?

That type of thinking will also ensure that you're charging enough for your services. Add value to the client, and they're happy to pay you well.

Five ways to become a "go-to" copywriter

Since I first started freelancing full-time two years ago, I've had the privilege of working with seven of my clients on a repeat basis, some of them quite consistently. Some of the other projects were by nature a one-time shot, but here's what I've learned so far from working with the regulars:

  1. Deliver more than expected. First impressions last a long time, so this is especially true on the initial project (or there may not be a second one). Find some way to give them something extra. If it's a new campaign without a current control, consider writing two versions of copy so they can A/B split-test it. If they're asking for headline or subject line ideas, give them 10 or 20 to choose from instead of just a couple.

    Go out of your way to do something extra that they're not expecting based on your proposal. Sure, you'll spend a little extra time on the project, but consider it an investment.

  2. Always meet deadlines. This goes without saying. If you have to pull an all-nighter to submit copy by 7 A.M. before your client gets to the office, do it (yes, I've done it more than once). Here's a better way: give yourself a two-business day cushion. Copy due on Friday? Tell yourself the real deadline is Wednesday. Then if you actually do submit it on Wednesday, your client is thrilled.

    I do my best work when I'm not feeling under the gun, so it's crucial for me to play this mind game.

  3. Be open to critique and making revisions. It's rare not to have to make revisions. If you hit the bulls-eye every time on the first try, you're a genius and I want to hire you as my coach. But you can minimize the revision process by writing your first drafts as if they're final copy. Don't turn in less than stellar work just because it's a first draft.

    I actually have one client who has never asked for revisions, but that's not common. When your client does ask you to make changes, this is where you can really distinguish yourself as a professional. Accept their feedback and constructive criticism. Listen carefully. Ask questions to make sure you really understand what they're looking for. Be open to a new approach. Then go back to the drawing board and spend whatever time necessary to nail it.

    (By the way, spell out in your proposal how revisions will be handled. I borrowed this language from Bob Bly: "I'll provide revisions until you're completely satisfied, assigned within 30 days of your receipt of the first draft of copy. After that, additional rewrites may be made at a fee to be negotiated separately from this agreement.")

  4. Feed ideas to your client. Become known as an "idea machine." Suggest ideas they haven't thought of. Proactively pitch them on approaches that could make them a lot of money (and for which you'll write the copy, of course).

    This is one of those areas where you can make yourself very easy to work with. Marketers and business owners are busy people. They have a lot of things on their minds and are being pulled in a hundred different directions. If you can initiate the idea, propose solutions, and follow through by writing the copy, you're making their job much easier. You've suddenly become a dream copywriter!

  5. Follow up. This is where I think a lot of copywriters drop the ball. It's easy to complete a project, then forget about it and move on to the next paying project. I've done it myself many times. But here's what I've discovered.

    Almost every time I've followed up with a client, it set the stage for future work, which later materialized. Now, that wasn't my main purpose. I followed up to ask how the testing went. Or if they've gotten comments on the website or seen any increased traffic. Or just to see if there were any loose ends I needed to tie up.

    What usually happens, though, is the conversation gives you an opening somewhere to suggest an idea or an area for improvement (see # 4 above). It might give you an opportunity to provide them with something extra at no cost (see # 1 above). Either way, following up is the right thing to do, separates you as a copywriter who does things a little differently, and opens the door for future projects.

So what are the bottom line results from taking these five ideas to heart?

Well, you're going to stand out from the crowd, which is always a good thing. There's a pretty good chance you'll be hired back if they have future copy needs. You might get a good testimonial to leverage (tip: ask every happy client for a testimonial). Even better, they may spread the word themselves that you are a go-to copywriter.

Then you get to help even more clients make more money.

And that's when this business really starts to get fun!

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Published: June 8, 2011

2 Responses to “How to Become a Valuable Asset and Go-To Writer: 5 Tips to Ensure Ongoing Work”

  1. Hey, Steve! Another gem for my folder. And my copy of "what to say when you're talking to yourself" arrived Saturday. I did want to thank you for your articles. You have helped. Altho I'm still floundering (it's that niche thingy (small business guru - but will it pay/do they care; or travel fundi with focus on tour operators...). I'm researching both - and finally finishing the 6-figure Accelerated Program. Writing for the web is next. Already in my library waiting.


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